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not accompany her sister to The Sycamores. Indeed, more subtle reasons
apart, she had little time to spare for unnecessary outings.

The business, as businesses will, had taken a turn for the better, and
the two members of the partnership had their hands full. Rumours of the
Photographic Studio had somehow got abroad, and various branches of the
public were waking up to an interest in it.

People who had theories about woman's work; people whose friends had
theories; people who were curious and fond of novelty; individuals from
each of these sections began to find their way to Upper Baker Street.
Gertrude, as we know, had refused at an early stage of their career to
be interviewed by _The Waterloo Place Gazette_; but, later on, some
unauthorised person wrote a little account of the Lorimers' studio in
one of the society papers, of which, if the taste was questionable, the
results were not to be questioned at all.

Moreover, it had got about in certain sets that all the sisters were
extremely beautiful, and that Sidney Darrell was painting them in a
group for next year's Academy, a _canard_ certainly not to deprecated
from a business point of view.

Such things as these, do not, of course, make the solid basis of
success, but in a very overcrowded world, they are apt to be the most
frequent openings to it. In these days, the aspirant to fame is inclined
to over-value them, forgetting that there is after all something to be
said for making one's performance such as will stand the test of so much
publicity.

The Lorimers knew little of the world, and of the workings of the
complicated machinery necessary for getting on in it; and while chance
favoured them in the matter of gratuitous advertisement, devoted their
energies to keeping up their work to as high a standard as possible.

Life, indeed, was opening up for them in more ways than one. The calling
which they pursued brought them into contact with all sorts and
conditions of men, among them, people in many ways more congenial to
them than the mass of their former acquaintance; intercourse with the
latter having come about in most cases through "juxtaposition" rather
than "affinity."

They began to get glimpses of a world more varied and interesting than
their own, of that world of cultivated, middle-class London, which
approached more nearly, perhaps, than any other to Gertrude's ideal
society of picked individuals.

And it was Gertrude, more than any of them, who appreciated the new
state of things. She was beginning, for the first time, to find her own
level; to taste the sweets of genuine work and genuine social
intercourse. Fastidious and sensitive as she was, she had yet a great
fund of enjoyment of life within her; of that impersonal, objective
enjoyment which is so often denied to her sex. Relieved of the pressing
anxieties which had attended the beginning of their enterprise, the
natural elasticity of her spirits asserted itself. A common atmosphere
of hope and cheerfulness pervaded the little household at Upper Baker
Street.

The evening of which I write was one of the last of May, and Frank had
come in to bid them farewell, before setting out the next morning for a
short holiday in Cornwall; "the old folks," as he called his parents,
growing impatient of their only son's prolonged absence.

"The country will be looking its very best," cried Frank, who loved his
beautiful home; "the sea a mass of sapphire with the great downs rolling
towards it. I mean to have a big swim the very first thing. No one knows
what the sea is like, till they have been to Cornwall. And St. Colomb - I
wish you could see St. Colomb! Why, the whole place is smaller than
Baker Street. The little bleak, grey street, with the sou'wester blowing
through it at all times and seasons - there are scarcely two houses on
the same level. And then -


"'The little grey church on the windy hill,'


and beyond, the great green vicarage garden, and the vicarage, and the
dear old folks looking out at the gate."

He rose reluctantly to go. "One day I hope you will see it for
yourselves - all of you."

With which impersonal statement, delivered in a voice which rather
belied its impersonal nature, Frank dropped Lucy's hand, which he had
been holding with unnecessary firmness, and departed abruptly from the
room.

Gertrude looked rather anxiously towards her sister, who sat quietly
sewing, with a little smile on her lips. How far, she wondered, had
matters gone between Lucy and Frank? Was the happiness of either or both
irrevocably engaged in the pretty game which they were playing? Heaven
forbid that her sisterly solicitude should lead her to question the
"intentions" of every man who came near them; a hideous feminine
practice abhorrent to her very soul. Yet, their own position, Gertrude
felt, was a peculiar one, and she could not but be aware of the dangers
inseparable from the freedom which they enjoyed; dangers which are the
price to be paid for all close intimacy between young men and women.

After all, what do women know about a man, even when they live opposite
him? And do not men, the very best of them, allow themselves immense
license in the matter of loving and riding away?

As for Frank, he never made the slightest pretence that the Lorimers
enjoyed a monopoly of his regard. He talked freely of the charms of
Nellie and Carry and Emily; there was a certain Ethel, of South
Kensington, whose praises he was never weary of sounding. Moreover,
there could be no doubt that at one time or other he had displayed a
good deal of interest in Constance Devonshire; dancing with her half the
night, as Fred had expressed it; a mutual fitness in waltz-steps
scarcely being enough to account for his attentions. And even supposing
a more serious element to have entered into his regard for Lucy, was he
not as poor as themselves, and was it not the last contingency for a
prudent sister to desire?

"What a calculating crone I am growing," thought Gertrude; then
observing the tranquil and busy object of her fears, laughed at herself,
half ashamed.

The next day Mr. Russel came to see them, and entered on a careful
examination of their accounts: compared the business of the last three
months with that of the first; praised the improved quality of their
work, and strongly advised them, if it were possible, to hold on for
another year. This they were able to do. Although, of course, the money
invested in the business had returned anything but a high rate of
interest, their economy had been so strict that there would be enough of
their original funds to enable them to carry on the struggle for the
next twelve months, by which time, if matters progressed at their
present rate, they might consider themselves permanently established in
business.

Before he went Mr. Russel said something to Lucy which disturbed her
considerably, though it made her smile. He had been for many years a
widower, living with his mother, but the old lady had died in the course
of the year, and now he suggested, modestly enough, that Lucy should
return as mistress to the home where she had once been a welcome guest.

The girl found it difficult to put her refusal into words; this kind
friend had hitherto given everything and asked nothing; but there was a
delicate soul under the brusque exterior, and directly he divined how
matters stood, he did his best to save her compunction.

"It really doesn't matter, you know. Please don't give it another
thought." He had observed in an off-hand manner, which had amused while
it touched her.

Lucy was magnanimous enough to keep this little episode to herself,
though Gertrude had her suspicions as to what had occurred.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XIII.

A ROMANCE.

_When strawberry pottles are common and cheap
Ere elms be black or limes be sere,
When midnight dances are murdering sleep,
Then comes in the sweet o' the year!_
ANDREW LANG.


The second week in June saw Frank back in his old quarters above the
auctioneer's. He had arrived late in the evening, and put off going to
see the Lorimers till the first thing the next day. It was some time
before business hours when he rang at Number 20B, and was ushered by
Matilda into the studio, where he found Phyllis engaged in a rather
perfunctory wielding of a feather-duster.

She was looking distractingly pretty, as he perceived when she turned
to greet him. Her close-fitting black dress, with the spray of tuberose
at the throat, and the great holland apron with its braided bib suited
her to perfection; the sober tints setting off to advantage the delicate
tones of her complexion, which in these days was more wonderfully pink
and white than ever.

"And how are your sisters? I needn't ask how you are?" cried Frank, who
in the earlier stages of their acquaintance had been rather surprised at
himself for not falling desperately in love with Phyllis Lorimer.

"Everybody is flourishing," she answered, leaning against the little
mantelshelf in the waiting-room, and looking down upon Frank's sunburnt,
uplifted face.

A look of mischief flashed into her eyes as she added, "There is a great
piece of news."

Frank grasped the back of the frail red chair on which he sat astride in
a manner rather dangerous to its well-being, and said abruptly, "Well,
what is it?"

"One of us is going to be married."

"Oh!" said Frank, with a sort of gasp, which was not lost on his
interlocutor.

"I am not going to tell you which it is. You must guess," went on
Phyllis, looking down upon him demurely from under her drooped lids,
while a fine smile played about her lips.

"Oh, I'll begin at the beginning," said poor Frank, with rather strained
cheerfulness. "Is it Miss Gertrude?"

Phyllis played a moment with the feather-duster, then answered slowly,
"You must guess again."

"Is it Miss Lucy?" (with a jerk.)

A pause. "No," said Phyllis, at last.

Frank sprang to his feet with a beaming countenance and caught both her
hands with unfeigned cordiality. "Then it is you, Miss Phyllis, that I
have to congratulate."

Her eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth as she answered ruefully, "No,
indeed, Mr. Jermyn!"

Frank dropped her hands, wrinkling his brows in perplexity, then a light
dawned on him suddenly, and was reflected in his expressive countenance.

"It must be Fan!" He forgot the prefix in his astonishment.

Phyllis nodded. "But you musn't look so surprised," she said, taking a
chair beside him. "Why shouldn't poor old Fan be married as well as
other people?"

"Of course; how stupid of me not to think of it before," said Frank,
vaguely.

"It is quite a romance," went on Phyllis; "she and Mr. Marsh wanted to
be married ages and ages ago. But he was too poor, and went to
Australia. Now he is well off, and has come back to marry Fan, like a
person in a book. A touching tale of young love, is it not?"

"Yes; I think it a very touching and pretty story," said Frank, severely
ignoring the note of irony in her voice.

He had all a man's dislike to hearing a woman talk cynically of
sentiment; that should be exclusively a masculine privilege.

"Perhaps," said Phyllis, "it takes the bloom off it a little, that
Edward Marsh married on the way out. But his wife died last year, so it
is all right."

Frank burst out laughing, Phyllis joining him. A minute later Gertrude
and Lucy came in and confirmed the wonderful news; and the four young
people stood gossiping, till the sound of the studio bell reminded them
that the day's work had begun.

Jermyn came in, by invitation, to supper that night, and was introduced
to the new arrival, a big, burly man of middle age, whose forest of
black beard afforded only very occasional glimpses of his face.

As for Fanny, it was touching to see how this faded flower had revived
in the sunshine. The little superannuated airs and graces had come
boldly into play; and Edward Marsh, who was a simple soul, accepted them
as the proper expression of feminine sweetness.

So she curled her little finger and put her head on one side with all
the vigour that assurance of success will give to any performance; gave
vent to her most illogical statements in her most mincing tones,
uncontradicted and undisturbed; in short, took advantage to the full of
her sojourn (to quote George Eliot) in "the woman's paradise where all
her nonsense is adorable."

"I don't know what those girls will do without me," Fanny said to her
lover, who took the remark in such good faith as to make her believe in
it herself; "we must see that we do not settle too far away from them."

And she delicately set a stitch in the bead-work slipper which she was
engaged in "grounding" for the simple-hearted Edward.

Fanny patronised her sisters a good deal in these days; and it must be
owned - such is the nature of woman - that her importance had gone up
considerably in their estimation.

As for Mr. Marsh, he regarded his future relatives with a mixture of
alarm and perplexity that secretly delighted them. Never for a moment
did his allegiance to Fanny falter before their superior charms; never
for a moment did the fear of such a contingency disturb poor Fanny's
peace of mind.

Only the girls themselves, in the depths of their hearts, wondered a
little at finding themselves regarded with about the same amount of
personal interest as was accorded to Matilda, by no means a specimen of
the sparkling _soubrette_.

Gertrude, who had rather feared the effect of the contrast of Fanny's
faded charms with the youthful prettiness of the two younger girls, was
relieved, and at the same time a little indignant, to perceive that, as
far as Edward Marsh was concerned, Phyllis's hair might be red and
Lucy's eyes a brilliant green.

For once, indeed, Fan's tactlessness had succeeded where the finest
tact might have failed. In dropping at once into position as the Fanny
of ten years ago; as the incarnation of all that is sweetest and most
essentially feminine in woman; in making of herself an accepted and
indisputable fact, she had unconsciously done the very best to secure
her own happiness.

"There really is something about Fanny that pleases men. I have always
said so," Phyllis remarked, as she watched the lovers sailing blissfully
down Baker Street, on one of their many house-hunting expeditions.

"You know," added Lucy, "she always dislikes walking about alone,
because people speak to her. No one ever speaks to us, do they, Gerty?"

"Nor to me - at least, not often," said Phyllis, ruefully.

"Phyllis, will you never learn where to draw the line?" cried Gertrude;
"but it is quite true about Fan. She must be that mysterious creature, a
man's woman."

"Mr. Darrell likes her," broke forth Phyllis, after a pause; "he laughs
at her in that quiet way of his, but I am quite sure that he likes her.
I hope," she added, "that she won't get married before my portrait is
finished. But it wouldn't matter, I could go without a chaperon."

"No, you couldn't," said Gertrude, shortly.

"Why are you seized with such notions of propriety all of a sudden?"

"I have no wish to put us to a disadvantage by ignoring the ordinary
practices of life."

"Then put up the shutters and get rid of the lease. But, Gerty, we
needn't discuss this unpleasant matter yet awhile. By the by, Mr.
Darrell is going to ask me to sit for him in a picture, after the
portrait. He has made sketches for it already - something out of one of
Shakespeare's plays."

"Oh, I am tired of Mr. Darrell's name. Go and see that your dress is in
order for the Devonshires' dance to-night."

"_Apropos_," said Lucy, as Phyllis flitted off on the congenial errand,
"why is it that we never see anything of Conny in these days?"

"She is going out immensely this season," answered Gertrude, dropping
her eye-lids; "but, at any rate, we get a double allowance of Fred to
compensate."

"Silly boy," cried Lucy, flushing slightly, "he has actually made me
promise to sit out two dances with him. Such waste, when one is dying
for a waltz."

"Oh, there will be plenty of waltzing. I wish you could have my share,"
sighed Gertrude, who had been won over by Conny's entreaties to promise
attendance at the dance that night.

"It is time you left off these patriarchal airs, Gerty. You are as fond
of dancing as any of us; and I mean you to spin round all night like a
teetotum."

"What a charming picture you conjure up, Lucy."

"You people with imaginations are always finding fault. Fortunately for
me, I have no imagination, and very little humour," said Lucy, with an
air of genuine thankfulness that delighted her sister.

Thus, with work and play, and very much gossip, the summer days went by.
The three girls found life full and pleasant, and Fanny had her little
hour.


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XIV.

LUCY.

_Who is Silvia? What is she,
That all our swains commend her?_
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.


There was no mistaking the situation. At one of the red-legged tables
sat Fred, his arms spread out before him, his face hidden in his arms;
while Lucy, with a troubled face, stood near, struggling between her
genuine compunction and an irrepressible desire to laugh.

It was Sunday morning; the rest of the household were at church, and the
two young people had had the studio to themselves without fear of
disturbance; a circumstance of which the unfortunate Fred had hastened
to avail himself, thereby rushing on his fate.

They had now reached that stage of the proceedings when the rejected
suitor, finding entreaty of no avail, has recourse to manifestations of
despair and reproach.

"You shouldn't have encouraged a fellow all these years," came hoarsely
from between the arms and face of the prostrate swain.

"'All these years!' how can you be so silly, Fred?" cried Lucy, with
some asperity. "Why, I shall be accused next of encouraging little Jack
Oakley, because I bowled his hoop round Regent's Park for him last
week."

Lucy did not mean to be unkind; but the really unexpected avowal from
her old playmate had made her nervous; a refusal to treat it seriously
seemed to her the best course to pursue. But her last words, as might
have been supposed, were too much for poor Fred. Up he sprang, "a
wounded thing with a rancorous cry" -

"There is another fellow!"

Back started Lucy, as if she had been shot. The hot blood surged up into
her face, the tears rose to her eyes.

"What has that to do with it?" she cried, stung suddenly to cruelty;
"what has that to do with it, when, if you were the only man in the
world, I would not marry you?"

Fred, hurt and shocked by this unexpected attack from gentle Lucy,
gathered himself up with something more like dignity than he had
displayed in the course of the interview.

"Oh, very well," he said, taking up his hat; "perhaps one of these days
you will be sorry for what you have done. I'm not much, I know, but you
won't find many people to care for you as I would have cared." His voice
broke suddenly, and he made his way rather blindly to the door.

Lucy was trembling all over, and as pale as, a moment ago, she had been
red. She wanted to say something, as she watched him fumbling unsteadily
with the door-handle; but her lips refused to frame the words.

Without lifting his head he passed into the little passage. Lucy heard
his retreating footsteps, then her eye fell on a roll of newspapers at
her feet. She picked them up hastily.

"Fred," she cried, "you have forgotten these."

But he vouchsafed no answer, and in another moment she heard the outer
door shut.

She stood a moment with the ridiculous bundle in her hand - _Tit-Bits_
and a pink, crushed copy of _The Sporting Times_ - then something between
a laugh and a sob rose in her throat, the papers fell to the ground, and
sinking on her knees by the table, she buried her face in her hands and
burst into bitter weeping.

Gertrude, coming in from church some ten minutes later, found her sister
thus prostrate.

The sight unnerved her from its very unusualness; bending over Lucy she
whispered, "Am I to go away?"

"No, stop here."

Gertrude locked the door, then came and knelt by her sister.

"Oh, poor Fred, and I was so horrid to him," wept the penitent.

"Ah, I was afraid it would come."

Gertrude stroked the prone, smooth head; she feared that the thought of
some one else besides Fred lay at the bottom of all this disturbance.
She was very anxious for Lucy in these days; very anxious and very
helpless. There was only one person, she knew too well, who could
restore to Lucy her old sweet serenity, and he, alas, made no sign.

What was she to think? One thing was clear enough; the old pleasant
relationship between themselves and Frank was at an end; if renewed at
all, it must be renewed on a different basis. A disturbing element, an
element of self-consciousness had crept into it; the delicate charm, the
first bloom of simplicity, had departed for ever.

It was now the middle of July, and for the last week or two they had
seen scarcely anything of Jermyn, beyond the glimpses of him as he
lounged up the street, with his sombrero crushed over his eyes, all the
impetuosity gone from his gait.

That he distinctly avoided them, there could be little doubt. Though he
was to be seen looking across at the house wistfully enough, he made no
attempt to see them, and his greetings when they chanced to meet were of
the most formal nature.

The change in his conduct had been so marked and sudden, that it was
impossible that it should escape observation. Fanny, with an air of
superior knowledge, gave it out as her belief that Mr. Jermyn was in
love; Phyllis held to the opinion that he had been fired with the idea
of a big picture, and was undergoing the throes of artistic conception;
Gertrude said lightly, that she supposed he was out of sorts and
disinclined for society; while Lucy held her peace, and indulged in many
inward sophistries to convince herself that her own unusual restlessness
and languor had nothing to do with their neighbour's disaffection.

It was these carefully woven self-deceptions that had been so rudely
scattered by Fred's words; and Lucy, kneeling by the scarlet table, had
for the first time looked her fate in the face, and diagnosed her own
complaint.

"Lucy," said Gertrude, after a pause, "bathe your eyes and come for a
walk in the Park; there is time before lunch."

Lucy rose, drying her wet face with her handkerchief.

"Let me look at you," cried Gertrude. "What is the charm? Where does it
lie? Why are these sort of things always happening to you?"

"Oh," answered Lucy, with an attempt at a smile, "I am a convenient,
middling sort of person, that is all. Not uncomfortably clever like you,
or uncomfortably pretty like Phyllis."

The two girls set off up the hot dusty street, with its Sunday odour of
bad tobacco. Regent's Park wore its most unattractive garb; a dead
monotony of July verdure assailed the eye; a verdure, moreover,
impregnated and coated with the dust and soot of the city. The girls
felt listless and dispirited, and conscious that their walk was turning
out a failure.

As they passed through Clarence Gate, on their way back, Frank darted
past them with something of his normal activity, lifting his hat with
something like the old smile.

"He might have stopped," said Lucy, pale to the lips, and suddenly
abandoning all pretence of concealment of her feelings.

"No doubt he is in a hurry;" answered Gertrude, lamely. "I daresay he is
going to lunch in Sussex Place. Lord Watergate's Sunday luncheon parties
are quite celebrated."

The day dragged on. The weather was sultry and every one felt depressed.
Fanny was spending the day with relations of her future husband's; but
the three girls had no engagements and lounged away the afternoon rather
dismally at home.

All were relieved when Fanny and Mr. Marsh came in at supper-time, and
they seated themselves at the table with alacrity. They had not
proceeded far with the meal, when footsteps, unexpected but familiar,
were heard ascending the staircase; then some one knocked, and before
there was time to reply, the door was thrown open to admit Frank Jermyn.

He looked curiously unlike himself as he advanced and shook hands amid
an uncomfortable silence that everybody desired to break. His face was
pale, and no longer moody, but tense and eager, with shining eyes and
dilated nostrils.

"You will stay to supper, Mr. Jermyn?" said Gertrude, at last, in her


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